State: Day care owner lied after baby’s death

An undated courtesy photo of Cooper Fales.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The State of Michigan released the findings of its investigation into a Kentwood day care facility where authorities say a 3-month-old baby died last week.

Cooper Fales was picked up from Bridges Day Care, LLC and discovered to be unresponsive once his father got him home. When Cooper was picked up, he had already been placed into a car seat and covered, police said.

In an 11-page special investigation report obtained by 24 Hour News 8 through the Freedom of Information Act, the Department of Human Services Bureau of Children and Adult Licensing details 11 violations discovered at the home.

The house in Kentwood where Bridges Day Care used to be located. (Feb. 26, 2015)
(The house in Kentwood where Bridges Day Care used to be located.)

Among the allegations are claims that Bridges Day Care lacked appropriate supervision for children, failed to maintain proper bedding and sleeping arrangements, had more children than allowed, and failed to maintain a clean and safe environment for the children being cared for at the home. The state also claims that Teresa Mowers, the owner of the facility, lied to state authorities who were investigating Cooper’s death.

The report lays out a timeline of the day Cooper died as follows:

Around 7 a.m. — Day care owner Teresa Mowers said Cooper was dropped off at Bridges Day Care, LLC “upset and hungry… He needed a bottle immediately.” Mowers said she gave him one at that time.

Around 4:00 p.m. — Mowers says Cooper was given a late afternoon bottle.

Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. — Cooper is believed to have died during this time frame.

4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. — Mowers says Cooper fell asleep in his car seat and she put him in the “preschool room” near the garage entryway to the home.

5:18 p.m. — Mowers texted baby’s father: “Just a heads up [Cooper] has spit up a lot today. He’s also been sleeping a lot.” Investigators suspect the baby had been deceased for a period of time before this message was sent.

Before 6 p.m. — Between 10 and 15 minutes before baby’s father arrived, Mowers said, she covered baby’s car seat with car seat cover.

About 5:45 p.m. — Father arrives to pick up baby Cooper and his siblings to take them home, about a 10-minute drive from the day care center.

6:10 p.m. — Cooper’s mother called 911 and his parents attempted to perform CPR when they discovered him unresponsive in the car seat.

6:44 p.m. — Cooper was officially pronounced dead at the home.

The medical examiner determined that Cooper had to have died at the day care hours before the mother called 911.

“He was stiff and his jaw was clamped shut as rigor mortis had set in. Dr. [Stephen] Cohle confirmed this during the autopsy,” Jaime Byerly, a licensing consultant for the Bureau of Children and Adult Licensing, wrote in her report, describing the baby’s condition after emergency crews arrived. “When Ms. Mowers sent a text message to [Cooper’s] father after 5pm about her concerns about him that day [Cooper] was already deceased.”

“Teresa Mowers did not assure appropriate care and supervision to [Cooper] on February 19, 2015. He died between 4:00pm and 5:00pm while in her care,” the report continues.

Mowers had no cribs or other appropriate bedding to sleep infants in her home, the report shows. She told investigators that she always held infants when they were asleep. She claimed to hold two sleeping infants together at times while keeping watch over other children in the home. Mowers said she held the babies as they slept because she had fears about a baby dying while under her care.

“I’ve never set a sleeping baby down,” the report quotes Mowers as saying, citing the time she put Cooper in the car seat asleep as the only exception.

In a subsequent interview, Mowers reportedly changed her story, claiming that she had placed infants in “pack-n-play” sleepers before but had thrown them out the week prior to Cooper’s death.

Mowers was licensed to care for up to six children at her home when she got her license from the state in January 2010. Prior to Cooper’s death, she had a satisfactory record with only minor violations documented.

Initially, Mowers told Byerly that there were only six children at the home the day Cooper died, but Byerly subsequently learned that was not true and there were actually 10 children being cared for at the home that day, the report indicates.

DHS workers said parts of the home’s second level were “not maintained in a clean or safe condition,” the report stated.

“The rooms were cluttered and had trash, papers, and items scattered throughout. The one bedroom she reported using for infants until the week previously was impossible for me to enter as the entire floor was covered with debris,” the report said. “[Mowers] indicated that she was embarrassed by the upper level of her home.”

Investigators also cited Mowers for failure to maintain daily attendance records and for maintaining an inappropriate caregiver to child ratio. While Mowers was not authorized to care for 10 children, two care givers would have been required if she were to care for that many children.

On Feb. 24, Mowers signed a settlement agreement and her license was revoked. She waived her right to appeal the revocation and agreed not to be connected with child care for at least two years.

The settlement agreement stipulates that Mowers admits to “a violation of the Child Care Organizations Act and/or licensing rule” but she “neither admits nor denies the allegations” made by investigators working on the case.

Kentwood Police Chief Tom Hillen confirmed that officers executed a search warrant at the day care Thursday as part of his department’s continuing investigation into what happened.

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